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March 29, 2012

Wezen-Ball

Stan Engel, Canadian Oil-League Ballplayer

by Larry Granillo

In case you had forgotten how dangerous the game of baseball can be, this article from the September 13, 1949, edition of the Edmonton Journal would like to remind you otherwise. Even better, though, is the life-story that it tells.

Under the heading "Athlete Foils Blindness", Hugh Mason wrote an article called "Coming Blindness Fails to Vanquish Stan Engel". At the time, Engel was the player-manager of the "Senior 'B' Baseball League" Texaco Oilers ("one of the 27 Texaco sponsored teams across Canada"). Engel began his career as a teenager, playing high school ball in Bellingham, Washington, and then some "E" class ball in Oklahoma City. At the time, he was a pitcher but he eventually ("after a brace of catastrophies") found himself in Canada behind the plate.

His first mishap came in Tisdale, Saskatchewan when he was "beaned" and unconscious for over four days.

The doctor's verdict was a shattered skull. And they told him he would never play again. They also told him that the bones in his skull which were knitting back together would sever both optic nevers leading from his eyes.

A man like Engel was not easily deterred. After being advised against returning to baseball - he had a shattered skull after all! - Engel did so anyway. While catching for the Canadian Navy team, Engel's bad luck continued.

A runner came sliding into home plate and tossed Stan for a loop. He came down head first on the rubber plate. This time he was only out for 24 hours.

But his skull was shattered again with a resultant aggravation of the optic nerves. The doctors only gave him three years before he lost his eyesight and that only if he stayed out of sports of all kinds.

The second accident occurred in 1946, but his eyesight was still good enough to be the player-manager in 1949. Well, to a degree.

Although his eyesight is now fading - he cannot keep up with a fast breaking curve ball - Stan figures he has two or three years left in baseball.

It's hard to find out any more information about Stan Engel from the internet, so we can't say when he stopped playing baseball or if he ever did go blind from his body healing his baseball-shattered skull. It does appear that he continued to manage the Oilers through at least the 1950 season, though. I don't think it's a stretch to say that this made Engel quite happy.

The rough-and-tumble world of Canadian-frontier oil-league baseball is sadly an underexplored facet of baseball history, leaving us with little frame of reference for Stan Engel's life as a ballplayer. It's clear, though, that the man loved the game and would do anything to keep playing, from moving from team-to-team in order to play it to literally risking life and limb with every game and every pitch. (It must have been hell trying to ask out of a game due to injury when Engel was your manager!) I may not have known a single thing about Stan Engel or the Texaco Oilers before today, but I'm glad this article exists to tell us about that world.

And if you ever find yourself wondering if baseball really is dangerous, just think back to Stan Engel's twice-shattered skull and his impending blindness. Things have gotten much, much safer in the last 60 years - and the majors were never the Canadian oil leagues - but it is still an inherently dangerous sport.

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Bizball: A New Day for... (03/28)
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Fantasy Article Resident Fantasy Geniu... (03/29)

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